by Russell Atkins

Heikki Kovalainen has insisted he was never unduly concerned by his stuttering start to his maiden season in the top flight, after seeing it burst into life with nine points from the last two races - more than a third of Renault's total score so far in 2007.

The Finn has leapt up into seventh place in the drivers' standings courtesy of a brace of top five finishes in Canada and the USA this month, but up until then he had registered but three and - worse still - had been comprehensively outperformed by team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella. Although the knives were soon out in the notoriously merciless and impatient Formula 1 paddock, he stresses he never doubted his ability to get on the pace.

"The main thing is to keep your head cool, even in moments like that, and come back stronger," he told Crash.net during testing at Silverstone this week. "Other people maybe were worried, but not anyone inside the team. People outside of it were criticising, but it didn't really bother me at all. I've always kept my focus 100 per cent.

"I had quite a few technical problems during the first few races and practice sessions, which meant I wasn't able to find the set-up I wanted for qualifying. The first really good weekend for me was Barcelona, and even there we had some refuelling problems during the race which compromised out strategy. Monaco was a difficult weekend too, with not being able to complete my best lap in Q2.

"For that race we had an updated front wing though, so the car started to work a bit better there - it improved the whole aerodynamic package straightaway. Since then we've been trying to build on that, improving little by little."

The R?gie has certainly done that, with showings in the last three grands prix somewhat more representative of their world championship-winning status than what had been seen back at the start of the campaign. Kovalainen has certainly made the most of the French outfit's move back up the pecking order.

"Obviously the results have been very good for me in the last couple of races," the 25-year-old acknowledged. "Montreal and Indianapolis - which are both lower-downforce circuits - seemed to suit the car quite well and we were more competitive there. In Montreal all the problems throughout practice really disturbed my preparations for qualifying, but the race turned out to be perfect for us. We were a little bit lucky, but at the end of the day we got the points.

"Indy went well for me all weekend. I had no technical problems throughout practice, and in the race I was able to fight with Nick Heidfeld ahead and Kimi Raikkonen behind. It's such a difficult track on which to follow other cars closely. I knew after I got ahead at the start Kimi would struggle to overtake me, and even if I was holding him up he wasn't able to make any kind of move."

Since then Renault have enjoyed three productive days' testing at Silverstone ahead of the race there on 8 July, with Kovalainen conducting the driving over the first two of them and pleased with developments and progress.

"It went ok," he confirmed. "There were no big problems. The rain disturbed things a little bit; there were a few things we would have liked to have been able to test again, but there was nothing we could do about it. The weather was actually better than we had expected it would be - we thought the rain would come earlier and heavier. We have been lucky to have a good two days here and complete a reasonable amount of laps.

"We tested a few new components on the car and that produced some good results which is the main thing, and reliability looks good too. There were a few aerodynamic updates we were trying to shake down for the races, as well as various new mechanical parts. At the same time we did a little bit of set-up work in preparation for the British Grand Prix.

"The temperatures here have been quite cool over the past couple of days, so it's difficult to say accurately 'this will be the set-up we will use for the race'. Last year the race was quite a bit hotter than the test. We were simply trying to find a starting point for the race weekend and fine-tune the car so I feel confident here."

Before Silverstone the F1 circus will head to Magny-Cours next weekend for the French Grand Prix, and though Kovalainen says he personally feels no extra impetus to score a strong finish in front of Renault's home crowd, he is optimistic the squad's recent upward trend is set to continue.

"Now we are coming back to normal downforce circuits we have to wait and see where we are," the former GP2 ace underlined. "For the team I think [racing in France] is more important, but for me it doesn't change anything. I just try to do the maximum in every race - it doesn't really matter where it is.

"Hopefully now we can carry on like this for the second half of the year. We know the potential of our car is very good; we just need to unlock it."

 

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